Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec addresses Pope Francis at the conclusion of an Oct. 12 Mass of thanksgiving for the April canonization of two 17th-century Canadian saints. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Missionaries help keep people, church healthy and holy, Pope says

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • October 13, 2014

VATICAN CITY - Missionaries do enormous good for the world and the church by bringing God's love to the far corners of the earth and by keeping the church healthy and fruitful, Pope Francis said.

Missionaries, who leave their homes and even risk their lives, "have done immense good for the church, because once the church stops moving and becomes closed up inside herself, she gets ill, she can be corrupted, either by sin or that false knowledge separated from God that is worldly secularism," he said in a homily Oct. 12.

The pope presided over a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica as a celebration of thanksgiving for the canonizations of Sts. Marie de l'Incarnation and Francois de Laval, two 17th-century French missionaries who were pioneers of the Catholic Church in Canada.

Pope Francis declared the new saints April 3 without requiring the verification of a miracle through their intercession or holding a canonization ceremony; instead he used a procedure known as "equivalent canonizations."

St. Marie de l'Incarnation was a French Ursuline who traveled to Quebec in 1639 and is known as the Mother of the Canadian Church; and St. Francois de Laval, who arrived in Quebec 20 years after St. Marie became the first bishop of Quebec.

More than 300 people came from Canada to take part in the Mass, which was concelebrated by bishops and priests from the archdioceses of Quebec and Toronto. Many parishioners were part of a pilgrimage that stopped first in France to visit cities and places connected with the saints' lives.

The pope praised the new saints, saying "they inspire us to imitate their faith" and offer encouragement "at a time when we are experiencing a scarcity of laborers in the service of the Gospel."

Pope Francis said recalling the lives of so many men and women who endured so many challenges and hardships will help bring strength and confidence to today's Catholics living in cultures that make living and sharing the faith more difficult.

"Honoring those who endured suffering to bring us the Gospel means being ready ourselves to fight the good fight of faith with humility, meekness and mercy in our daily lives, and this bears fruit," he said.

Cardinal Thomas C. Collins of Toronto told Catholic News Service Oct. 13 that everyone can find inspiration in the heroic missionaries.

People love heroes, especially young people, but most of "today's heroes aren't that wholesome," he said.

The challenge is to help people learn about the heroes of the church because they're "great models for all of us, in Canada and beyond," said the cardinal.

Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, said, "each one of them was a hero of evangelization in their creativity, in their attachment to the Gospel and in their love of the people that they met."

They both came from France, leaving everything behind "to live the Gospel in absolutely new conditions with hardly any resources," he told CNS Oct. 8.

"Everything had to be created" from scratch as they found new ways to preach the Gospel, said the archbishop, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The new saints serve as a model for people today to find new ways to "preach the Gospel, which does not change, in today's culture," he said.

Archbishop Durocher said St. Francois de Laval, who was born in 1623 and studied in a Jesuit school, "was a kind of 17th-century Pope Francis," setting set aside the ornate material trappings and living a simple, "nearly austere, lifestyle."

"He journeyed by canoe and on foot to go and celebrate with the people. He had a great love for the native people that he met, for their struggles, for their trials," the archbishop said.

The saint came to Quebec -- a town of just 500 people -- in 1658 as the apostolic vicar of New France, as Quebec was called, and there he began his missionary work among colonists and the native peoples. He died in Quebec in 1708.

St. Marie de l'Incarnation was born in 1599 and although drawn to the religious life, she followed her parents' wishes and was married at the age of 17. Six months after her son was born, her husband died. When the child turned 12, she entered the Ursuline order and, in 1639, set sail for Quebec with several other Ursulines.

Archbishop Durocher said she, too, found ways "to make the Gospel relevant to the native people" she encountered.

She dedicated herself to teaching, but soon realized "the traditional French school was not going to work here at all. And so she moved her classroom outside" to teach the young children. She died in Quebec in 1672.

Cardinal Collins said even Catholics who do not become actual missionaries can still live by the same missionary spirit -- turning one's gaze outward toward others and "taking care of the gathered and scattered," those in the pews and those who have drifted from the church.

"If we're doing that we're really alive and sharing the faith," he said.

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